Scripture of the Sikhs

The Sikh Gurus never believed in the exclusivity of their teachings. The Gurus undertook travels to spread their message to peoples of different cultures in their own native languages. The Gurus did not believe in the ideas of any language being ‘sacred’ or ‘special’. [link]

I found the above quote to be quite interesting given a recent conversation I’d had with a close friend of mine. She felt that the Guru Granth Sahib was not accessible to most Sikhs and this inaccessibility was actually detrimental to those Sikhs who wanted to understand the teachings of the Gurus. She recently found herself, on several occasions, wanting to refer to the Guru Granth Sahib in order to obtain some enlightenment on things occurring in her life. There were several obstacles she felt that prevented her from doing so. First, she doesn’t read Gurmukhi (although she is learning) and second, having a sound understanding of Gurmukhi doesn’t necessarily translate to comprehension. While I agree that it is important for each of us to learn Gurmukhi, to help deepen our understanding of Gurbani, I wonder how many Sikhs of our generation are able to truly do so.

GuruGranthSahib_0_.jpgThe Christian faith, for example, focuses heavily on bible study and encourages youth to participate in these groups at a young age. In our Gurdwaras, we place a large emphasis on learning Punjabi – an important element in having the tools to access our scriptures. However, we hardly pay any attention to teaching youth how to read and understand Gurbani. The Guru Granth Sahib is the only religious scripture in the world which contains ideas and thoughts of great saints from non-Sikh backgrounds. Without a doubt, it is unique in all sense of the word. If the Guru Granth Sahib is the most important source of wisdom for Sikhs – then why can’t the majority of Sikhs understand it?

Like many others in history, Nobel laureate, Pearl S. Buck, has praised the Guru Granth Sahib,

I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes. They are compact in spite of their length and are a revelation of the concept of God to the recognition and indeed the insistence upon the practical needs of the human body. There is something strangely modern about these scriptures and this puzzled me until I learned that they are in fact comparatively modern, compiled as late as the 16th century when explorers were beginning to discover the globe upon which we all live is a single entity divided only by arbitrary lines of our making. Perhaps this sense of unity is the source of power I find in these volumes. They speak to a person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind. [link]

While such praise should bring a sense of pride to every Sikh’s heart, it is also saddens me to know that we do not make more of an effort to understand what was bestowed upon us. Can we blame each other for not knowing the words of the Guru Granth Sahib if we haven’t created avenues for learning in our homes, in our gurdwaras, in our communities? What can we do to ensure that accessing the teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib becomes easier for younger generations?


bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark
tabs-top


20 Responses to “Scripture of the Sikhs”

  1. Hazur says:

    I agree, its a problem. Many of my Christian and Muslim friends are able to share lines from threre religious texts. We, on the other hand, can barely do the same.

  2. Jaswinder Singh says:

    Translations ruins the culture….

  3. Hazur says:

    I agree, its a problem. Many of my Christian and Muslim friends are able to share lines from threre religious texts. We, on the other hand, can barely do the same.

  4. Jaswinder Singh says:

    Translations ruins the culture….

  5. Harjit Singh says:

    I was recently thinking about this and I concluded…with Sikhi to the Max, SearchGurbani, ShabadGuru just to name a few, there really is no excuse to understanding Gurbani. The arguement that it is too hard to understand Gurbani can not exist anymore (a decade ago sure but not now) when all you have to do is remember the line and go look it up on one of the above programs. I have begun doing this lately and it makes me feel great to finally know what im listening to/singing means.

    Translations may have "ruined" the culture…but then without translations I would not be understanding and trying to implement Guruji's message now would I?

    Why can't we share lines from Gurbani? My dad does it all the time…maybe coz he remembers bani unlike me! 😉

  6. Harjit Singh says:

    I was recently thinking about this and I concluded…with Sikhi to the Max, SearchGurbani, ShabadGuru just to name a few, there really is no excuse to understanding Gurbani. The arguement that it is too hard to understand Gurbani can not exist anymore (a decade ago sure but not now) when all you have to do is remember the line and go look it up on one of the above programs. I have begun doing this lately and it makes me feel great to finally know what im listening to/singing means.

    Translations may have “ruined” the culture…but then without translations I would not be understanding and trying to implement Guruji’s message now would I?

    Why can’t we share lines from Gurbani? My dad does it all the time…maybe coz he remembers bani unlike me! 😉

  7. Harinder says:

    Sikhism is a religion with difference as per me.

    It lacks many of the dos and dont as found in other scriptures.

    From my impression a SIKH is to pick the best of all religions and philosophies and imbibes it in our daily life.

    It is pretty simple to be a SIKH.

    No Jihads ,No prostelysing ,no hatred for any one and just loving and admiring all the creation of GOD.

  8. Harinder says:

    Sikhism is a religion with difference as per me.
    It lacks many of the dos and dont as found in other scriptures.
    From my impression a SIKH is to pick the best of all religions and philosophies and imbibes it in our daily life.
    It is pretty simple to be a SIKH.
    No Jihads ,No prostelysing ,no hatred for any one and just loving and admiring all the creation of GOD.

  9. RP Singh says:

    Great topic, Sundari – thanks for posting this very pertinent issue!

    It's funny, I recall similar issues of the "inaccessibility of the Guru Granth Sahib" being raised at camps 20+ years ago…and that was when English translations were very rare and long before the internet (yes, some of us are from the stone age). Now English translations are plentiful, SikhiToTheMax is awesome, and many Gurdwaras (two of our local ones) display the translations on flat-screen monitors during the Deevan. Still we're throwing our hands in the air saying the Guru is inaccessible?

    Beyond this, there is an abundance of Gurmat-related camps, workshops, conferences, retreats, webinars, and web discussion forums to discuss Gurbani. I understand that English translations are not ideal, but it does give you a gist of the shabad…beyond that…how about a conversation? Even after reading a translation of a Shabad (Punjabi or English), why not discuss that Shabad with a parent, grand-parent, friend's parent, or whoever – and get their thoughts and opinions on the Shabad? Then get someone else's opinion too! This is I feel is the most important yet under-used tool we could use to understand Gurbani…discussion with the people around us who knows even slightly more. At camps, when kids have complained to me about not understanding Gurbani, I've challenged them to work with me and have Gurbani-related discussion, even just a line or two, on a periodic basis through email or chat – but the kid's rarely follow through. I guess what I'm saying is…it has less to do with resources and more to do with laziness. When I took a class in 18th century poetry in College, it was difficult to understand – but through some analysis, discussion, and reflection…we eventually got it. But it took work…and Gurbani is much the same way…you just have to take the first step…and as Bhai Gurdas Ji says, "If you take one step towards the Guru, then the Guru will take a thousand steps towards you."

  10. RP Singh says:

    Great topic, Sundari – thanks for posting this very pertinent issue!
    It’s funny, I recall similar issues of the “inaccessibility of the Guru Granth Sahib” being raised at camps 20+ years ago…and that was when English translations were very rare and long before the internet (yes, some of us are from the stone age). Now English translations are plentiful, SikhiToTheMax is awesome, and many Gurdwaras (two of our local ones) display the translations on flat-screen monitors during the Deevan. Still we’re throwing our hands in the air saying the Guru is inaccessible?

    Beyond this, there is an abundance of Gurmat-related camps, workshops, conferences, retreats, webinars, and web discussion forums to discuss Gurbani. I understand that English translations are not ideal, but it does give you a gist of the shabad…beyond that…how about a conversation? Even after reading a translation of a Shabad (Punjabi or English), why not discuss that Shabad with a parent, grand-parent, friend’s parent, or whoever – and get their thoughts and opinions on the Shabad? Then get someone else’s opinion too! This is I feel is the most important yet under-used tool we could use to understand Gurbani…discussion with the people around us who knows even slightly more. At camps, when kids have complained to me about not understanding Gurbani, I’ve challenged them to work with me and have Gurbani-related discussion, even just a line or two, on a periodic basis through email or chat – but the kid’s rarely follow through. I guess what I’m saying is…it has less to do with resources and more to do with laziness. When I took a class in 18th century poetry in College, it was difficult to understand – but through some analysis, discussion, and reflection…we eventually got it. But it took work…and Gurbani is much the same way…you just have to take the first step…and as Bhai Gurdas Ji says, “If you take one step towards the Guru, then the Guru will take a thousand steps towards you.”

  11. Miss Kaur says:

    Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj is accessible for Sikhs. People find it easy to say we dont understand or it doesnt make sense, it would actually require them to read further and aid their understanding. Instead they find it easier to moan and complain. If there is a particular topic we are struggling with at school/uni we will read various sources and speak to our lecturers etc to try and further our understanding but "Sikhs" nowadays dont have the patience for that.

    I would agree with the fact that most Sikh youth cannot read/understand Gurbani. There are ways to learn but it boils down to how badly the individual wants it. My Santhea teacher (person who teaches how to read/understand Bani correctly) lives in India, we use skype to have our classes as do many youngsters. But then again the individual will need to be motivated and have an interest in Bani.

  12. Miss Kaur says:

    Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj is accessible for Sikhs. People find it easy to say we dont understand or it doesnt make sense, it would actually require them to read further and aid their understanding. Instead they find it easier to moan and complain. If there is a particular topic we are struggling with at school/uni we will read various sources and speak to our lecturers etc to try and further our understanding but “Sikhs” nowadays dont have the patience for that.

    I would agree with the fact that most Sikh youth cannot read/understand Gurbani. There are ways to learn but it boils down to how badly the individual wants it. My Santhea teacher (person who teaches how to read/understand Bani correctly) lives in India, we use skype to have our classes as do many youngsters. But then again the individual will need to be motivated and have an interest in Bani.

  13. Sundari says:

    Harjit and Jaswinder, I agree that translations are available, however, they are not ideal. There is much value in being able to read Gurbani as it is written. Nevertheless, Sikhi to the Max and other sites which provide translations have been very helpful in bridging the gap in the meantime. Being able to read a romanized line from Gurbani is important, however understanding the line and comprehending the meaning is just as significant – and that's what I hope will change.

    RP, agreed that a dialogue needs to take place with Gurbani – we need to be actively engaged with it. With the emergence of camps and conferences – I think the younger generation is beginning to be exposed to Gurbani more and more which is great. You're right, however, it is ultimately up to us to make an effort to learn.

    Miss Kaur, it's great that you have the opportunity to skype with your Santhea teacher. Unless we expose youth to Gurbani and offer them these types of opportunities to understand Bani, then they're not going to know what they're missing out on.

  14. Sundari says:

    Harjit and Jaswinder, I agree that translations are available, however, they are not ideal. There is much value in being able to read Gurbani as it is written. Nevertheless, Sikhi to the Max and other sites which provide translations have been very helpful in bridging the gap in the meantime. Being able to read a romanized line from Gurbani is important, however understanding the line and comprehending the meaning is just as significant – and that’s what I hope will change.

    RP, agreed that a dialogue needs to take place with Gurbani – we need to be actively engaged with it. With the emergence of camps and conferences – I think the younger generation is beginning to be exposed to Gurbani more and more which is great. You’re right, however, it is ultimately up to us to make an effort to learn.

    Miss Kaur, it’s great that you have the opportunity to skype with your Santhea teacher. Unless we expose youth to Gurbani and offer them these types of opportunities to understand Bani, then they’re not going to know what they’re missing out on.

  15. IkHumanBeing says:

    You touched a very important point in the article – perhaps it is even THE biggest challenge of Sikhi in the coming decades. It is indeed more than important to connect the message of Guru Granth Sahib Ji with daily life (of youngsters). In the vast majority of Gurdwaras this is lacking completley. The Granthis themselves do not understand the meanings because they mostly lack knowledge about the unique grammer technique (viakran) and interpret the verses literally (not to mention that they mostly only speak Punjabi; very rarely they speak the langiage of the country where their do their "duty").

    Most Sikhs until today neglect the fact that the Gurus described their message in metaphors (which is by the way the only technique available to mankind to express a message in a timeless way). Sikhi2TheMax, which is a fantastic tool, has been on the forefront in establing a literal approach to Gurbani – which is highly problematic from the viewpoint of Gurmat.

    Here is an interesting article written by a Sikh youngster that describes a Sikhi class that uses an an innovative approach to target young people. It might be helpful to inspire others establishing similar classes elsewhere. Since it is written in German, you will have to use the Google translation function to get the main ideas out of it.
    http://www.sikh-religion.de/html/religionsunterricht.htm...

  16. IkHumanBeing says:

    You touched a very important point in the article – perhaps it is even THE biggest challenge of Sikhi in the coming decades. It is indeed more than important to connect the message of Guru Granth Sahib Ji with daily life (of youngsters). In the vast majority of Gurdwaras this is lacking completley. The Granthis themselves do not understand the meanings because they mostly lack knowledge about the unique grammer technique (viakran) and interpret the verses literally (not to mention that they mostly only speak Punjabi; very rarely they speak the langiage of the country where their do their “duty”).

    Most Sikhs until today neglect the fact that the Gurus described their message in metaphors (which is by the way the only technique available to mankind to express a message in a timeless way). Sikhi2TheMax, which is a fantastic tool, has been on the forefront in establing a literal approach to Gurbani – which is highly problematic from the viewpoint of Gurmat.

    Here is an interesting article written by a Sikh youngster that describes a Sikhi class that uses an an innovative approach to target young people. It might be helpful to inspire others establishing similar classes elsewhere. Since it is written in German, you will have to use the Google translation function to get the main ideas out of it.
    http://www.sikh-religion.de/html/religionsunterricht.html

  17. Sundari says:

    IkHumanBeing,

    Thanks for your comment. You make an important point – translations give us literal meanings. It is still up to us to comprehend what those literal meanings are and relate them to our life.

  18. Sundari says:

    IkHumanBeing,

    Thanks for your comment. You make an important point – translations give us literal meanings. It is still up to us to comprehend what those literal meanings are and relate them to our life.

  19. Simran says:

    I know various Sikh Scholars are uncomfortable with the translation of Gurbani because of literal approach…etc (They do help).

    I feel that Guru ji wanted us all to Sing Gurbani & share Gurbani no matter what/with who/where/how…and promised understanding will follow*.

    *"Avoh Sikh Satguru Ke Pyareyo Gavoh Sachi Bani, Jin Ko Nadar Karam Hove Hirday Tina Samani" from Anand Sahib)"

    Our understanding of meanings will be different from an intellectual perspective to experiental understanding.

    Jap+ji = meditate + my soul. In Japji sahib right after Gurprasad comes the word Jup which is for "ACTION" and work towards experiencing the divine with via mediation*, kirtan singing or simran**, and sandh-sangat.

    "Avar Kaj Tere Kithay Na Kam, Mil Sadh Sangat Bhuj Keval Naam"

    Understanding from translation is one thing, Remembering that the Guru Amardas ji was in a state of bliss when he met his Guru another, but experiencing it totally different.

  20. Simran says:

    I know various Sikh Scholars are uncomfortable with the translation of Gurbani because of literal approach…etc (They do help).

    I feel that Guru ji wanted us all to Sing Gurbani & share Gurbani no matter what/with who/where/how…and promised understanding will follow*.
    *”Avoh Sikh Satguru Ke Pyareyo Gavoh Sachi Bani, Jin Ko Nadar Karam Hove Hirday Tina Samani” from Anand Sahib)”

    Our understanding of meanings will be different from an intellectual perspective to experiental understanding.
    Jap+ji = meditate + my soul. In Japji sahib right after Gurprasad comes the word Jup which is for “ACTION” and work towards experiencing the divine with via mediation*, kirtan singing or simran**, and sandh-sangat.
    “Avar Kaj Tere Kithay Na Kam, Mil Sadh Sangat Bhuj Keval Naam”

    Understanding from translation is one thing, Remembering that the Guru Amardas ji was in a state of bliss when he met his Guru another, but experiencing it totally different.